What is the root cause of the spiritual illness called addiction?

All addicts have a fundamental inability to live peacefully and contentedly. An addict uses his or her drug or behavior of choice to induce a temporary state of relief from a deep, incessant discomfort with life. But what is the root spiritual cause of addiction? Rabbi Shais Taub brings light to the spiritual needs behind an addict and addiction here.

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The real problem behind addiction is a spiritual problem

The only way an addict can ever have a real choice to stop self-medicating the symptoms of addiction is if he or she can understand and treat the real problem that gives rise to the symptoms to begin with. But what is the real problem the addict is attempting to treat by using?

The real problem behind addiction is a spiritual problem, as evidenced by the fact that the real solution is a spiritual solution. Let us now ask, what is the exact nature of the spiritual problem? What does it mean to be spiritually sick? In other words, what is the root cause of the spiritual illness called addiction?

Addicts are sick for God

The addict is sick with a yearning for God and can only become well by having some contact with God.

It sounds grandiose, I know. What are we saying? That all addicts are really super sensitive, spiritually passionate seekers?

Not exactly.

More aptly stated: All human beings have a deep-seated need for spiritual contact. But most people can also live their lives without it. Addicts are people who, for whatever reason, are unsettled to the core and cannot handle the business of life without maintaining a continual and acute awareness of the Divine. Absent such higher consciousness, they are miserable and sick. What makes their dilemma fatal is that their drug of choice will actually produce in them short-term affects that simulate the release and relief that can only really be had through spiritual consciousness. Consequently, the only real treatment for their condition is to make sure that they get the “real thing” instead of self-medicating with the fake stuff, for if they do not get the real thing, they have no choice but to take the fake stuff.

In other words, for most people, spirituality is a luxury, something to be sought after more “basic” needs are met. Addicts are somehow different in this respect in that for them, there can be nothing resembling a normal life if their spiritual needs are not met first.

Why addicts use a drug of choice

Of course, we don’t mean to say that only addicts are capable of truly yearning for God. In Song of Songs (2:5), King Solomon describes the feeling of being “lovesick” for God. That is not the point anyway. It is not the longing for spiritual wholeness that causes addiction. What makes an addict an addict is the combination of two factors: (1) they are profoundly disturbed and unsettled with their own existence as an entity apart from God; and (2) for reasons unknown, they can somehow briefly simulate relief from this condition by taking their drug of choice.

This is the trap of addiction, and it is the real problem we have been trying to define. The real problem that lies at the core of addiction is that addicts are people who are in dire need of a relationship with God but are able to substitute fulfilling this need with a behavior that is essentially self-destructive.

Really, the drug of choice becomes the addict’s God. This is not meant as mere rhetoric. Addiction is idol worship in the most fundamental sense of the term—turning to something other than God to do for you what only God can do.

About the author
Rabbi Shais Taub is one of today's most respected young scholars of Jewish spirituality and practice. National Public Radio called him "an expert in Jewish mysticism and the Twelve Steps." He is the author of God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction.


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  1. My hubby prays daily and goes to church, but is an alcoholic. I don’t think a lack of faith got him here? Maybe more so a genetic link towards addiction and a family that always drank? I have no idea.

  2. This is POWERFUL! I grew up being raped and beaten my entire childhood by my adopted family. And addicting is singing I’ve struggled with my entire life…I’m 33. It might have been food, shopping, sex, etc. Numerous ones. I also begin to notice they were these temporary fixes of pleasure. That I was not happy not satisfied after my purchase, not slice of cake, no sex. Only in the moment to avoid being present with my pain. In these last month’s of my life, I begin to notice my anger and pain for my abusers. I experienced feelings of being unprotected, abandoned, not rescued, unheard… And then it dawned on me that my resentment was with God. For exactly what you said…that separation. Feeling He left me, abandoned me, forgot me, I wasn’t important, not worthy and I had to do it all myself. In that moment the anger for my abusers dissolved. It was as if I could no longer comprehend or remember what I was angry with them for. And this morning I awoke from a dream. The last seven dreams have been the same. Different but same results. I’m stuck somewhere and every step of getting out is drawn out and exhausting. Which lead me here. Because I know God wants me to be clear of my dependencies and to know He is to be my supplier of joy. Just the other day as ive been digging deeper into my connection with him and allowing Him to reveal Himself to me…he came to me through the eyes of my husband. It was if I could see the spirit that moved his eyes. I could see the universe in his eyes. And the universe was God. And God said to me “You see…I’ve been with you this whole time”. I believe this article is spot on. I believe the highest form of praise unto the is ‘surrender’. It is in surrender that we have faith in everything;and resistance to nothing. Thank you for sharing your insight and perspective. I am humbled. ?

  3. I was an opiate addict living under a bridge for 5 years and when the pain became to much I went to a detox, then to transitional housin where AA was obligatory if you wished to stay, so I went. They REALLY wanted me to 12 step etc etc, but it was not for me. I beleive in God, always have, but dont beleive God tours backwater solar systems performing miracles on demand. So I ended up getting kicked out for not saying AA kept me sober. Had to stay in a homeless shelter for 2 months while I worked and saved for a place. Then I got back to living. 19 years sober, life is Good and if God had anything to do with it maybe it id because I decided to get help and do what is right.

    “- Addicts are people who, for whatever reason, are unsettled to the core and cannot handle the business of life without maintaining a continual and acute awareness of the Divine. Absent such higher consciousness, they are miserable and sick.” Really, this is some BS right there, at first I was going to laugh it off but it is just to ourageous.
    Some addicts never grow up. You are a prime example. Just have to be “special”. Yeah, you special alright….

  4. I can only believe you have NEVER been addicted too a drug for 38 years.. I LOVE GOD with all that I am ..JESUS is the only one who can set an addic free

  5. I am not sure about addiction being a spritual problem, must be mental problem as the spirit of man is eternal and thus is not subject to change. It is kind of the like mind trying to understand the spirit using a connecting medium such as the drug of choice which is only the senses drawing the mind away from the real source and substituting it for a drug. This can be solved by a study of oneself and knowledge of one’s constitutional position in time, space and causation

  6. I think that you just describe me perfectly, however I think demons are passed down from generation to generation. I know my moms mom was a drug addict, my mom was an addict, and I am an addict so was my brother. Environment and the crowds you hang out with, how young you started doing drugs, why you started, for weight loss, peer pressure, or loss, or all the above are also reasons to consider, Then we get roped by the devil and we are puppets. Physically drugs can change your brain chemistry where the drug fills that need, and we are trapped. Jesus can save you. I am really close with God, when I stop doing the drug I stray away . I know it’s a trick from the devil but I have done so much brain damage I go crazy without drug. I can’t function . I belong in the nut house . As long as I have the drug I’m fine , I am completely normal, eat, sleep, pray, and so sad I’m trapped I know the word of God is the answer so I study it all the time while I’m high. Sick yes I am. I want to please God alone however I go nuts when I don’t have drug. Meth. I started doing at 13 for weight loss I am 37 and still doing it . I have done brain damage. Plus dr told me my brain doesn’t produce cerratoni it’s like at 2% I’m considered a emergency case to get medication, I hate the way they make me feel, groggy, sleepy, so I go to the only thing that makes me normal it’s meth. I have job, I sleep every night I pray and read my bible all the time . I know God will get me out of this but Fear is on me , and I’m too scared to stop, because I go nuts with anxiety and I’m a walking suicidal time bomb when I quit. My father and brother committed suicide that runs in the family, mom died of lung cancer, I seek God while I’m high but I want to seek him sober.

  7. Judy why did you need something to make you feel good? evidently you were seeking to feel better then you had felt. So why weren’t you feeling good to begin with…. why weren’t you able to feel good and have a good time without drinking?

    Sounds like you were yearning for something.

  8. My name is Darla and I used to be a drug addict I probably still am a drug addicts I just don’t use I choose not to use honestly I really don’t think it had anything to do with spirituality. problem going way back to my childhood so I don’t know how you equate that with spirituality let me know

  9. I think this article very well written. Addiction is a complex problem.

    I agree with Rabbi that some people need to have an active daily ‘spiritual dimension’ to their lives. For example, to run the whole day without taking drugs some sort of ‘Program’ is required for that day. For most of us a ‘Program’ can mean get up, walk the dog, have brekky, shower go to work etc, come home make dinner – the day is already full. A ‘Program’ tells you what you need to do at each point of the day. Some people like to have a very fixed program while others like to have a more self directed or dynamic one. The ‘Program’ must be underlied or empowered by self-belief or an over-arching spiritual or motivational reason about why the program is important and needs to continue. Some people have a lot of difficulty in coming up with such a reason, and in these cases religion can provide a very useful dual role by not only giving people a reason for running the program but also by suggesting what people should be including in their daily ‘Program’. Some people do not have the personal skills to develop their own program or even if they do, perhaps someone else has convinced them their program is not worth running. Such people will then take up a program that is supplied by someone else that may include drug taking. The side effects from the drug use may cause some pain but overall at least drug takers feel ‘busy’ and ‘engaged’ whether they are on the up with the drugs or crashing through pain in recovery. What everyone including drug takers is running from is the emotional pain that is involved with an unengaged or confused free will. This decision making paralysis or place of ‘nothing’, ‘no action’ and confusion can by extremely emotionally painful, frustrating and debilitating for people.

    Drugs are just an instant program for people who don’t have one. Albeit with some pretty negative side effects. If people want to cure people from drug addiction they will need to provide a competing program, point out the benefits and transition the addict across to it. But it will be important to remember that the addict may need a program with a lot of regular human support so coming up with a self directed / self supporting program isn’t likely to work. What’s really required is to create new communities.

    1. Hi Damian. Yes, you can comment without signing up. Still, all the comments are first checked and edited, and then we approve them on the page.

  10. Great article. Yes drugs were my solution to the “ism”, the internal spiritual malady which is described in the bb p52 as

    “we were having trouble with personal relationships,
    we couldnt control our emotional natures,
    we were a prey to misery & depression,
    we couldnt make a living,
    we had a feeling of uselessness,
    we were full of fear,
    we were unhappy,
    we couldnt seem to be of real help to other people.”

    That is what was wrong with me & until I found a spiritual solution through the 12 steps i was in danger of picking up again.

  11. I’m not sure I agree with you on this topic. I do agree that some individuals who meet criteria for substance dependence seem to benefit greatly from cultivating spirituality in their lives; however, the majority of individuals who meet criteria for substance dependence tend to mature out of their dependence on substances and remit using alcohol and/or drugs without a spiritual awakening. Furthermore, many of these individuals live contented lives without alcohol/drug, or a Higher Power.

  12. Great advice and great definition.

    I have never heard that, “Addicts are people who, for whatever reason, are unsettled to the core and cannot handle the business of life without maintaining a continual and acute awareness of the Divine. Absent such higher consciousness, they are miserable and sick.”

    So true and thank you for your insight in this area.

    Another kid, who should be an adult, who grew up in the church, and has every argument in his head, with nothing hitting his heart.

    Thank you,


  13. When someone you know becomes a drug addict, it can get really hard at times to deal with that person; you will often get angry with him. This is something normal; everyone would get mad since a person when on drugs is someone else at that time. A drug addict would get irritated very easily from little things and would let it all out on you.

  14. Although I am a Christian “believer” now, the “reason” I became addicted to alcohol was because I liked the way it made me feel and it was FUN — plain and simple. No longing for anything but feeling good and having a good time. After years of use, I found that my body physically needed it. No abuse, no void, no anger. It can happen to anyone.

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